When my friends get upset with themselves because things haven’t quite worked out as planned, I often ask them a strange but quite important question, ‘Have you found your pigeon?’
Surprisingly it no longer elicits the level of confusion you’d expect. They’re used to my little Aesop’s Fables from life. Let me explain.
I have a friend who has worked hard her whole life to climb the corporate ladder but once she hit her mid-thirties and had kids, she started to have a little wobble. ‘What if this isn’t what I want to do for the next 30 years until I retire?” It’s a fair question that so many of us ask. So, after much soul searching, she started a small photography company in her spare time. It was hard work but she made a real success of it, eventually employing staff and building an amazing brand. This scratched her creative itch and she started to plan to leave her day job.
Then something awful happened. Her husband, had a massive heart attack. It would come to light that he needed major surgery.
He was a regional sales manager, and very good at what he did. He worked long hours and put himself under immense pressure to ensure that not only did he hit his targets, but that his team was the country’s top performers month after month. He lay in the hospital bed, not so much concerned with his own mortality, but instead worrying about what would happen to his sales figures, and his team, and what the company might do.
In short, he believed they would get rid of him. He believed that after all his years of dedication, working more hours than was reasonable, and outperforming everyone else, that his company wouldn’t wait the couple of months the doctors were advising he’d need to get better.
I know, I know, there’s a whole discussion to be had right there but that’s not what this post is about. We’re going to be talking about pigeons.
So, before he was wheeled into surgery my friend begged him, ‘for the sake of your children you can’t go back to a job that fills you with that much stress. Let’s cash in some insurances and raid the savings, and you find something else to do.’ He was unconvinced but he was also frightened. Due to some other conditions, his surgery wasn’t as straight forward as could have been. He promised they would discuss it further when he woke up.
And he did wake up. Full blown tragedy averted. Now he just had to face the recuperation and the multitude of missed calls and answer machine messages from his office asking where reports were and who would be picking up x,y,z task.
And like a bad habit, within 48 hours and against everyone’s advice, he was on his phone dealing with their queries. She knew she had to do something. She knew from her own experience that she needed to convince him that his work ethic was admirable but it was just focused in the wrong way. If he wanted to stay with that company then he needed to drastically change expectations, otherwise he would become ill again. If he couldn’t change those expectations then he needed to re-evaluate what he was going to do. He needed a new direction.
So, she did what we all do when we’re worried and frustrated with a loved one, she nagged. Until finally, exasperated and tired she said, “if you could do anything. If you won the lottery and you had no commitments. What would you do with your time? What is the one thing you remember in life that has made you happy, outside of your children?”
He was embarrassed about his answer. He needed coaxing because he thought his wife would laugh at him. Here he was, this successful, executive level, grown man and he was about to say, ‘pigeons.’
You see when he was a child his grandfather used to breed racing pigeons. And as he described, these were some of the happiest most carefree days of his life. If he had no commitments, and all the time in the world, he would breed pigeons and he would share that joy with his children.
My friend dived on the idea like a pigeon on chips, ‘done and done’ (yes, dad joke territory I know). She was on her phone Googling pigeon care instructions. ‘You’re going to take time off and we’re going to buy you a coop for the end of the garden,’ she announced. I wasn’t there but I can only imagine he was a little in shock at the turn of events.
And so, over the coming weeks they made all the arrangements. Once he was well enough he began his new hobby and the effects on his stress levels were understandably immense. That said, it’s difficult to adjust from a hectic lifestyle of meeting people and targets, to the solitude and slow pace of talking to pigeons. So, he did what you would expect of someone adjusting from a corporate environment. He applied some of that entrepreneurial mind-set to his pigeons.
Over the next few months he began breeding his pigeons and found a market for people wanting to buy them. He figured he could set up a website, and in the course of his day to day, he came across some curious information. In China, there is a tradition of pigeon fancying, with a large number of clubs, associations, and racing leagues. And most interestingly, the birds themselves are a badge of honour. They indicate that the owner has reached a level of success that allows such extravagances.
Not sure you believe me? In China, rich entrepreneurs have been known to pay in excess of US$100,000 for a single pigeon.
And boom, he found a niche of very special pigeon types and invested in some breeding pairs. Within months he was exporting pigeons to China. Demand began to outstrip supply and he found he was now sat on an extremely successful business that he could run out of his own home, whilst spending more time with his children. My friend proudly told me 18 months later that he had left his old job and was earning the same money whilst doing something he truly found joy in.
How do you identify your pigeon?
Identifying your pigeon isn’t easy and often people fall upon theirs without realising, because something external caused their path to alter.
You need to consider;
- What do you enjoy reading about, watching on tv, talking to people about?
- Are you passionate about it enough to do something more with it? Be aware though that not everyone has a pigeon in their life.
- What are the ways you could monetise that idea?
- Can you strip it down to a small niche that no-one is tapping into? Remember, it’s better to have 1,000 customers who are dedicated to your brand than have 10,000 customers who would leave you based on the next rival offer.
- If you have an idea, check if there’s a market for it. Using Google Adwords Keyword Planner can help figure out if there’s an audience for your idea.
- Start small.
- Plan the stages – without goals you will drift.
- Have fun – I believe this is more important than being able to monetise the idea.
There is more treasure in happiness than in belongings.
My pigeon is writing. I don’t expect to make any money from it for a long time whilst I earn my racing stripes, but it allows me to be a version of myself I couldn’t be for the last 20 years.
I like who I am when I’m writing. I enjoy being curious. I enjoy researching and creating new futures. I’m more relaxed and more fun to be around – I have independent testimony to that fact.
Monetising your pigeon.
I think monetising your pigeon is always the hardest part, not only in the initial stages but also in the long term to ensure the pigeon doesn’t become a duck.
Too abstract for you?
Basically, you must make sure you retain the purity of what you’re doing in order to maintain the love. If you love breeding pigeons, then don’t start breeding ducks just because there’s more money in it.
If you love something enough it will come through in your work. If you sell out for the cash, that will come through in your work as well. People respond to the passion as well as the product, and the passion can give you a leading edge.
So, I’ll ask you what I ask everyone else, ‘have you found your pigeon?’